Apr 12, 2020

Get to know Will Johnson, tenor

Will Johnson has sung in the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir since 2000. We sat down with Will to learn a bit more about him and his two passions in life—singing and rock climbing. This Q&A was originally scheduled to appear in print in the house program of A Handel Celebration.

Tafelmusik: When did you first start singing and when did you decide to pursue it professionally?

Will Johnson, tenor. Photo by Jennifer Moher.Will Johnson: I started singing when I was six years old in a church choir with my family at St. Stephen's Anglican Church in Hornby, Ontario. My mum, dad, and sister are singers too—we were once called the "Johnson Family Quartet"! I continued singing in choirs throughout high school and university with the Guelph Youth Singers, Ontario Youth Choir (where I met Ivars), National Youth Choir, World Youth Choir, and the Festival Ensemble Choir in Überlingen, Germany. After so many incredible youth choral experiences I auditioned for professional choirs, among them Tafelmusik, the choir of St. John's Anglican Church Elora, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, knowing that my passion for choral singing was something I simply had to continue. I sang and studied in Germany for two summers and graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Music in 2006.

TM: Describe your first music gig.

WJ: It was at a small church in Kitchener where I was a guest soloist with the Renaissance Singers singing the part of Abraham in Britten's Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac with Daniel Cabena. Britten is my favourite composer and remains one of my favourite pieces of music to this day!

TM: Which part of A Handel Celebration are you especially looking forward to?

WJ: My favourite Handel duet ever, "As steals the morn” (from L'Allegro) — I cannot wait to hear Amanda and Thomas sing it.

TM: What will be a challenging and/or rewarding aspect of singing A Handel Celebration for you?

WJ: We've sung many of these choruses before, so the challenging aspect will be taking them to the next level—detailed polishing and getting the most out of every phrase. We spend a lot of time focusing on diction, intonation, shaping, and many other items in order to present our best interpretation of Handel's music. There are some real gems in this concert—it will be a lovely end to our season.

Will Johnson rock climbing. Photo by Alison Sexton.TM: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

WJ: My family, but specifically my parents. They introduced me to choral music at a very young age and I wouldn't have so many wonderful memories or musical experiences without that start. I've been incredibly fortunate to grow up in a musical household and I'm very grateful.

TM: What is your favourite thing to do during your free time?

WJ: Three or four days a week you will find me bouldering at Joe Rockhead's Climbing Gym in Liberty Village. Bouldering is how I met my wife!

TM: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

WJ: I have had the unique honour of representing Canada in both of my life's passions: choral singing and competition rock climbing. In 2001 and 2002 I sang with the World Youth Choir in Venezuela, America, Belgium, and Italy, and with the Festival Ensemble Choir led by Helmuth Rilling in Germany with a final concert (Beethoven's Missa Solemnis) in Athens, Greece. Fourteen years later I finished the Canadian National bouldering season ranked 10th in Canada, and got to compete in Bouldering World Cups in Switzerland, India, Austria, America, and two years later in Moscow, Russia.

TM: What are the last 3 songs/pieces you’ve listened to?

Will Johnson, tenor. Photo by Jennifer Moher. WJ:
Jacob Collier: Moon River
Frank Ocean: Moon River
Polo & Pan: Dorothy

TM: What is your favourite place in the world?

WJ: A cool summer day in the lush, green forest at the base of the Stawamus Chief (Siám’ Smánit) Mountain in Squamish, British Columbia.

TM: Which composer/artist/hero, living or not, would you like to sit next to at a dinner party, and why?

WJ: Igor Stravinksy, at a dinner party a couple of nights before the premiere performance of the Rite of Spring. I'm curious if his musicians had concerns about the opening night, the difficulty and complexity of the music, and what his mood was like approaching the first performance. Did he know what was about to transpire? It must have been quite the show…

Image credits:

1 & 3 by Jennifer Moher
2 by Alison Sexton

Will Johnson
Chamber Choir
Tafelmusik Together